I did this last year and it was fun to look through my notes and recall some of my more memorable day trips and long weekend trips in Canoe Country. Since I live close to the Boundary Waters I prefer to take several 2-4 day trips per year instead of one or two 7-10 day trips. Therefore, I don’t have a real sexy report about some grand adventure in Canoe Country but I do spend several days per year on the lakes in or real close to the BW. Fishing is the reason I spend so much time up the Gunflint Trail but I also enjoy the sights and sounds of God’s country; whether it is a white throated sparrow singing praises to the Creator or a mother bear and some cubs feeding along the shoreline.
I had a hard time getting out trout fishing in January and February this year. The couple of times that I did get out I had limited success. I usually managed to finagle a few trout to bite each time out, but most of my time was spent trying to learn some spots on a new lake.
MARCH- MY FAVORITE MONTH OF THE YEAR TO FISH FOR LAKE TROUT
I got out a little more in March, as that is one of my favorite months of the year to be in the Boundary Waters. The days are longer, the sun feels warmer, and I really start climbing the walls to get out after feeling a bit cooped up Dec-Feb. I was given the opportunity to hook into a fantastic lake trout on one trip. I knew I had something solid as soon as I set the hook while jigging on a 65’ hump. A few seconds later the fish realized that something wasn’t right and took off on a long, steady run. I only gained about 10’ back and that trout took off again. I was beginning to worry about the possibility of being spooled when the fish finally stopped. I knew I was in for a fairly lengthy battle as the fish was displaying the power and confidence of a large lake trout.
I proudly announced to the guys that I was fishing with that I had a big one on and I was going to need some help. As soon as they arrived I was humbled as she came unbuttoned. I made a few fast turns on my reel in disbelief like we all do when a nice fish gets off, but she was truly gone. That fish had a chance of being my first Boundary Waters laker to top the 20 pound mark but I wasn’t able to close the deal. I began the usually routine of second guessing myself. Did I set the hook hard enough? Was my drag too tight? Are my hooks sharp enough? Oh well, it is what it is. I try not to get hung up on big fish that come unbuttoned because it is part of fishing but every once in a while I lose a fish that sticks with me.
I took a two night camping trip to Mountain Lake as well in March. The weather was not as warm as predicted, but we did have one nice sunny afternoon. Both nights were overcast which prevented the temps from dropping lower than about 15 above each night. It is nice to be comfortable and not shivering after you crawl out of your sleeping bag in the morning. As usual for Mountain, we caught a lot of trout. Many of the fish were running 2-3 pds which was a pleasant surprise as the last time I fished Mountain the average fish couldn’t have been much bigger than a pound.
As most of you remember, the highly anticipated Minnesota fishing opener in May was all about the wind this year. My mom and I trolled around on Gunflint for a couple of hours on Saturday morning before the waves got too big for comfort in my little 14’ Lund. I caught one laker about 4 pds and that was it. I went down the road to say a quick hello to Mocha and then mom and I went to Trail Center for lunch. Sunday the winds settled down a bit and we were able to get out in the canoe. We caught some nice lakers around 4-6 pds and my mom also caught this bonus pike.
I was going to turn the pike loose until it spilled my coffee and slimed my Kit-Kat. I was quick to condemn it to a sentence of hot oil after that. I do enjoy fried pike, but not as much as I enjoy fresh grilled trout. Here is my meal on Monday evening after enduring the wind and cold during opening weekend.
Memorial Day weekend I decided to leave my tent at home and enjoy the comforts of a bunkhouse at Gunflint Outfitters, making a few day trips. I attempted my first crack at walleye fishing for the year but they got the best of me on this trip. The lake trout were very cooperative though and they provided steady action for me. Here are a couple of nice eater sized lakers I took home with me.
I had some decent walleye fishing in June. I did not camp at all but managed to squeeze in a few day trips up the Gunflint Trail. Wind is always a welcomed advantaged for me when walleye fishing in June, which is something we seemed to have plenty of this year. Most of the walleyes are in bays this time of year on the deeper, cooler lakes and a few days of a nice steady wind can make finding them easier once you learn how to work with the wind. In July, when I am trying to fish mid lake rock piles from a canoe I can get impatient and frustrated on windy days. This is not the case in June.
My favorite way to fish for walleyes this time of year is to find the right bay and drop anchor. Then, I put on a jumbo leech with a slip bobber and let the wind take my bait right to the walleyes. Here are pictures of some of my catches in June this year. As you can see nothing huge, but some nice 25-28” fish found the bottom of my landing net along with lots of smaller walleyes.
I cannot forget about the little walleye fishing contest that bassnut and I had in June. If I remember correctly June 13th was the date. The rules were simple. We each fished the lake of our choice but it had to be from a canoe, and live bait was not permitted. I was not happy about the live bait rule but decided to play along. We then took the total length of our 5 longest fish. I had a real hard time trying to catch fish during the day by casting jigs with soft plastics. By 5:00 pm I had only caught 3 walleyes but at least they were decent sized. The pressure was on but then that evening I was able to turn my luck around when I found a shoreline that provided a fantastic bite trolling rapalas.
JULY- MY FAVORITE MONTH OF THE YEAR TO FISH FOR WALLEYES
In July I took a four day trip with a friend. The trip was all about walleyes and I was excited to try some spots that had produced for us last year, as well as try some new spots. I was very confident about this trip because my success in the lake we were going to has continued to increase each year as I get the know the lake better. I also had some ideas about night fishing that I wanted to experiment with a bit. Additionally, I was armed with a new lucky fishing hat from bassnut and a custom made transducer mount from bobbwca. We left Duluth really early and arrived at the campsite of our choice around noon. After we set up camp we took a few minutes to eat and enjoy the songs of the white throated sparrows before we hit the water.
The first spot we tried is a shallow reef I have named ‘flat top’. It is surrounded by a few other humps to side A, a nice finger that extends from side B, and deep water on the other two sides. It is a text book trophy walleye spot and I’m not sure if I could draw up a better spot on paper. I was still fiddling around with the anchor rope, trying to position the canoe perfectly when I heard Bernie’s drag start to sing. I was thrilled when he announced it was a big fish. When you are fishing that perfect spot on a spot, it is not uncommon to hook into a good fish almost immediately.
When I realized Bernie’s fish was going to take a while to land I decided to throw my bobber out to the other side of the canoe and it quickly went down but popped back up before I could set the hook. I put a new leech on my hook and got another bit right away. A few minutes later I landed a nice 22” walleye that I put on the stringer for dinner. By this time I thought the big walleye on Bernie’s line was about done with its series of steady, horizontal runs that are very characteristic of a big walleye. However, I still had to wait patiently for a while as Bernie carefully worked the big fish to the canoe like the experienced angler he is.
As you can see this fish had an eelpout still hanging out of its mouth that it had eaten a day or two before. I found this very intriguing. This walleye probably grabbed its eelpout meal in 40 or more feet of water. I’ve caught walleyes very deep in the summer before while lake trout fishing, but thought the walleyes that I have caught in deep water were fish that always prefer deep water. This fish told me otherwise. I did not know a walleye will move that much vertically from one day to the next.
During the 4 days of fishing on this trip we only caught about 8-10 walleyes per day but the average sized fish was incredible. Almost all of the walleyes we caught were 22” or bigger and we had 4 fish that were over 28”. Of course we caught our share of smallmouth as well. Here are some other fish from the trip.
The highlight of the trip was this leviathan that we caught on a gorgeous night. It was the perfect night for fishing. The moon was bright and we had a nice breeze to keep the mosquitoes away. Trying to land this fish at night was a riot as Bernie had it by the canoe a few times before I was able to get my headlight on its eyes good enough to confidently scoop her in the net. The fish probably should have gotten off before we had a chance to net it but the LORD was gracious. She would have looked nice on anybody’s wall but logistically that was not an option. It was very satisfying to watch the big walleye swim off in the dark as the moon reflected off the water.
I usually don’t fish much in August as I like to spend the nicest days of summer canoeing, hiking, and camping with my bride. I did however have one good day of fishing on a lake in Ontario that I have spent countless hours trying to figure out. The lake often leaves me scratching my head because I know it has a healthy population of big walleyes but they always get the best of me. I find myself drawn back to this lake year after year though and am determined to figure it out. The lake has really clear water (25+ ft) which gives a whole new meaning to presentation when trying to catch big walleyes in the daytime. I had some success as I found one spot that produced some healthy 25” walleyes.
I also got this nice 30” walleye that ended up being my second biggest walleye of the summer. As you can see my camera has a mind off its own at times where it just won’t focus on anything. Unfortunately, it picked a bad moment to act up. How come new technology doesn’t last long? This spring I will have to buy my third digital camera. The old 35mm cameras would last much longer.
The story of the summer came at the end of the day. I was fishing a small rock pile when the wind switched and the boat drifted right over the top of it. I saw a few walleyes scatter when I looked down at the rocks and became very frustrated with my poor boat positioning. In stained water you can get away with sloppy fishing like that but not on this lake. At first I was going to pull anchor and relocate but I had hunch about a spot that I figured I could let my bobber drift to after a long cast. Many times it pays dividends to act on a hunch. It’s that sixth sense that all good hunters and anglers have, and as long as we are tuned into our surroundings we can tap into it. I don’t think there is anything mystical about it and I think many of you know what I am talking about. How often have you found a school of fish at the end of the day because you had a good feeling about a spot? Or, how many times have you continued to focus on one particular spot from your deer stand only to have a deer show up in that exact spot. Of course I have lots of fruitless hunches as well.
With the new wind direction I set my bobber stop at 20’ and cast way out towards a nice little pocket between the rock pile I was now on top of, and another little hump. It did not take long for my bobber to go down and I was hooked into the biggest walleye of my life. I carefully tussled with this fish for several minutes but as soon as I would get a look at her, she would use her weight and power to easily swim away from the boat. It wasn’t long before that fish worked my little #8 hook free from its mouth. I think my drag was a little too tight as the hook popped out during a series of big head shakes. It is one of those lessons learned at the school of hard nocks. There is an art to landing big fish with any sort of single hook method. Something fly fisherman know all too well. I’ll definitely be back to that spot.
The two segments of the year that I have the hardest time catching walleyes are late summer to early fall, and mid winter. This year I thought I had some answers for my failed attempts at early fall walleyes so I went out with a friend for a few days over Labor Day weekend. Unfortunately, just like years past I could hardly catch a walleye. My biggest walleye of the trip was 24” and besides that, we each caught a couple of dinks. We did have some fantastic smallmouth action one evening fishing a big reef in about 18’ of water.
Thanks for reading. I hope someone; somewhere enjoyed reading this and found it a bit informative. Overall it was a good year of fishing. I had some great times with family and friends out on the water, and enjoyed several meals of fresh fish; both on little granite islands and at the kitchen table. I learned a lot and had the opportunity to hook into some good fish, but better than that, I was able to put family and friends on top of some nice fish.
Over the past 5 or 6 years I have discovered that I really enjoy walleye fishing in the deep & clear trout lakes. It is certainly not a numbers game on most days but it is a very rewarding experience to pick a couple of nice walleyes off the top of mid lake rock piles. Most spots are only good for 1 or 2 fish at a time, and then I have found that I have to move if I want to catch more walleyes. Paddling around in the wind all day going from spot to spot trying to find a few big walleyes that are willing to bite is not for everybody. I have found that guys who are used to catching dozens of small walleyes per day fishing in productive waters tend to lose interest in my methods. It’s not for everybody, but it sure trips my trigger.
I hope everybody has a prosperous 2012 in all of their outdoor adventures. I will leave you with the middle versus of Psalms 104 as that is a Psalm that I have found myself constantly going back to recently while out enjoying God’s handiwork. Tight lines everybody!
Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great:…He sends the springs into the valleys; They flow among the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field; The wild donkeys quench their thirst. By them the birds of the heavens have their home; They sing among the branches. He waters the hills from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works. He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart. The trees of the LORD are full of sap, the cedars of Lebanon which He planted, Where the birds make their nests; The stork has her home in the fir trees. The high hills are for the wild goats; The cliffs are a refuge for the rock badgers. He appointed the moon for seasons; The sun knows its going down. You make darkness, and it is night, In which all the beasts of the forest creep about. The young lions roar after their prey, And seek their food from God. When the sun rises, they gather together And lie down in their dens. Man goes out to his work And to his labor until the evening. O LORD, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of your possessions- This great and wide sea, in which are innumerable teeming things, Living things both small and great…Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD!